Experimental manipulation of avian social structure reveals segregation is carried over across contexts.
Firth JA., Sheldon BC.
Our current understanding of animal social networks is largely based on observations or experiments that do not directly manipulate associations between individuals. Consequently, evidence relating to the causal processes underlying such networks is limited. By imposing specified rules controlling individual access to feeding stations, we directly manipulated the foraging social network of a wild bird community, thus demonstrating how external factors can shape social structure. We show that experimentally imposed constraints were carried over into patterns of association at unrestricted, ephemeral food patches, as well as at nesting sites during breeding territory prospecting. Hence, different social contexts can be causally linked, and constraints at one level may have consequences that extend into other aspects of sociality. Finally, the imposed assortment was lost following the cessation of the experimental manipulation, indicating the potential for previously perturbed social networks of wild animals to recover from segregation driven by external constraints.